How To Get Your Catering Right

When it comes to making your wedding day memorable, the food and drink can be make or break. But narrowing down the choice – and balancing what you like with everyone else’s preferences – can be fraught with difficulty. To help, we asked some of the industry’s top caterers for their advice.

How should couples choose a caterer? 

“Ultimately you need to choose a company you can trust,” advises Jen Middlehurst, director of catering company Kalm Kitchen. “The catering partner manages so much of your day and pulls so many elements together, you need to be entirely confident in them. Look at their style and ensure it’s in line with your vision. Check out their social media feed, too, as this often gives a true reflection of their food and service.”

Alex Head, CEO and founder of Social Pantry, adds, “There are a few things to consider – whether your venue has a list of suppliers you must choose from, what style of food you are hoping for, and what your budget is per person. You should first get in touch with all the caterers that interest you, as they will then put together a menu for you and a quote. Wait until you have these back, then compare and create a shortlist of three. The next step is to have tastings with each (this is the best bit). Remember it’s not just about the food –make sure the staff are friendly, knowledgeable and focused.”

“One of the best places to start is by talking to family and friends,” says Sarah Hammond, event director at Rhubarb. “The power of word of mouth is key for caterers. Remember they are the linchpin of the day – your caterer is the person who holds your hand the whole way through. Also, think about weddings you have been to and the food you have enjoyed. After that, speak to friends who have gotten married and ask about their experience with their caterer.”

How far in advance should couples book a caterer? 

“If your date is planned for 2021 then as soon as possible, because next year is getting very booked up with couples who have been forced to move their weddings from 2020. Once you have the venue confirmed, move onto the caterer research,” advises Sarah. Jen agrees: “Often the catering is the first or second supplier selected. Bringing a catering partner on early means they can offer help with so much of the planning and assist with recommending other industry professionals. We create a plan from the early conversations with our couples and this offers real transparency around how the day will come together – which can be really helpful. Generally, we are booked 12 months in advance of the wedding.” Alex agrees with the one-year timeline: “This allows plenty of planning time and ensures every last detail is organised. Of course, sometimes we only have a couple of months to plan a wedding, and anything is possible, but you do not want your chosen caterer to be booked up, so the sooner you get your date in their diary the better.”

Kalm Kitchen
Althorp

How much will the catering cost – and what makes it more expensive? 

“Assume you will be spending at least £90 per head on the food and drink per guest,” says Alex. “Additional styling, food courses, canapés and speciality drinks can be added on top. Costs can spiral if you don’t have a good grasp on your maximum budget. It is wise to have a think about the areas that are less important to you and what you would be prepared to compromise on, in case your budget doesn’t allow for everything.” Jen agrees: “We suggest budgeting for approximately £100 per head plus VAT. This will typically cover your canapé reception, three-course meal, and the service required for this part of the day. We also offer several bespoke options to make your wedding feel truly unique, but these do tend to incur additional costs. We suggest outlining your budget early on in the planning process so that menus can be tailored to your needs.”

Sarah advises: “When you give a brief to a caterer, ensure they quote for everything, with no TBCs included. Ask for the worst-case scenario, and then you have all the information you need and can cut back from there. We always quote on an upfront basis with clarity about all costs including delivery and hire (for example kitchen equipment, crockery, cutlery and glassware) – these two things can really be a surprise to couples. The costs can spiral if you have ‘on consumption’ or ‘hours after midnight’ clause in there.”

How do couples decide on a wedding menu? 

“Start with what you really love and then factor in the season you are getting married – seasonal produce is always more delicious,” says Jen. “Catering for large numbers can be daunting, especially factoring in what others like or don’t, but your wedding is about you. Talk openly with your caterer about places you like to eat, or places you have travelled to and eaten spectacular food. That way, bespoke menus can be created to reflect you as a couple.” Alex agrees: “All caterers will offer seasonal menus, and planning a menu always starts with ingredients, so think about what is important to you. Are your favourite foods the priority? Are where the tomatoes come from and how your lamb was reared a sticking point? If so, ask your caterer to think about these factors when they design your menu. Don’t worry too much about pleasing all of your guests – choosing food that makes you happy is sure to have the same effect on everyone else,” says Alex.

What combinations of food go well together? 

“We love having interactive elements during a wedding day,” says Jen, “And when you get guests involved in making or selecting what they are going to eat, you know everyone is going to be happy. We recommend serving a two-course plated meal and afterwards offering one of our patisserie bars for dessert.”

“Your food combinations will depend on your guests and the style of your big day,” says Alex. “Are you having canapés? If so, perhaps opt out of a starter and serve a heartier main. Make sure you’ve got some carbs on your menu, too – your guests will have had a long day, and possibly a few drinks. If you’ve gone for a substantial main, maybe go for a lighter dessert – you can never go wrong with something chocolate-based to finish the meal.” Sarah adds: “Consistency throughout your menu is key – if you want an Italian vibe, bring this through from canapés, to the cicchetti and cocktails, all the way to the main course and dessert.”

What should couples do about catering for children?

“Children can be an important factor at your wedding and its imperative that you get the food and entertainment right for them so that parents can relax and enjoy the day,” says Jen. “We recommend bringing in entertainment or a crèche service. Quite often, children will be entertained in a space away from the main dining area and are provided with picnic boxes or a children’s food station. In our experience, lots of snack-type food suits children better on a day when there is lots going on.” 

Atkin
Kalm Kitchen

What should couples do about those with dietary requirements? 

“Ask all of your guests if they have any dietary requirements at the time of sending invites,” advises Alex. “Your caterer will ask you to confirm these ahead of your big day, but the sooner you provide them with the information the better. Once your caterer knows what requirements they’re working with, they’ll be able to cater for everyone.” Jen adds: “Dietary needs can be catered for and considered throughout the planning process. We are being asked more and more to cater for vegans and other dietary needs. We will often try to match the menu as close to the main selection as possible, using suitable substitutes. Recently, we catered for a couple who opted for an exclusively vegetarian menu. This worked wonderfully, especially as they wanted an Italian feel.” Sarah finishes: “Those with dietary requirements are no longer a minority and must be very well looked after and never feel like their menu is an after-thought. We work really hard with our development chefs and nutritionists to bring vibrant and different dishes to those with special requirements. Always offer delicious alternatives with synergy to the rest of your guests’ food so they don’t feel second best.” 

What food would you suggest for later in the evening?

“Late night snacks are a chance to have some fun with food,” says Alex, “Think about what you and your partner want to eat while you’re dancing the night away. A slider or toastie often wins after a long day spent on your feet. Consider artisan pizza slices and fish and chip cones or a gorgeous ice cream or dessert station.” Sarah agrees: “Croque monsieur is always a winner… and adding truffle makes it extra indulgent. Mini ice cream cones are also fun for a balmy summer evening.” “We like to circulate our evening food,” adds Jen. “Hot food that’s carb-rich tends to be the order of the night and fuels the dancing. If you are looking for something more elegant, we create stunning cheese tables that are good for grazing on until the small hours.”

Social Pantry
Social Pantry

Are there any food trends you think will be strong in 2021?

“Local and seasonal produce has become more important than ever,” says Alex. “Chefs are thinking more about the environmental impact of growing food and transporting it. In the same vein, kitchens and diners are starting to worry more about waste and sustainability. There will be calls for zero-waste elements on every menu. Meat-free eating isn’t just a trend – it’s here stay, so consider a full-blown vegan wedding breakfast that impresses all your guests – not just the green ones.”

Sarah agrees: “Sourcing is the biggest trend we are seeing. Where the food is sourced, the seasonality of ingredients and transparency of sourcing has always been of great importance to us, however we are seeing a big shift with clients now asking about these aspects. Live cooking stations are really having a moment too – in a very rustic, authentic, easy way, whether canapés are served from our signature BBQs or mini pizzas from our wood-ovens for midnight munchies,” says Sarah.

“We believe the message is simple for 2021… pure celebration. Sumptuous, fresh and abundant food delivered in a truly generous service style. This year has taught us all what’s really important, and to us, it is that love always wins,” says Jen.

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